By Safie M. Gonzalez
HAVANA TIMES – Coffee is much more than a drink to help us Cubans kick start off the day. It’s an excuse to meet with someone, a social get together. If somebody comes to visit you at home, the tradition is to offer them a steaming hot cup of coffee.
To us there’s nothing like pure Cuban coffee. However, unfortunately, most Cubans cannot enjoy this coffee, it’s simply out of our reach. This might be something many of you did not know.
Cuban coffee enjoys international fame. Countries like Japan and France take delight in our black nectar. In today’s Cuba, 90% of the coffee grown is in the provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago, Granma and Holgun. Santiago is the leading producer. In the center of the island Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos and Villa Clara account for 7%, while in the west, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa produce 3%.
The coffee tree was introduced by Jose Antonio Gelabert in the 18th century. Later, French colonialists imported their own production methods. When the Cuban Revolution took place in 1959, Cuba was an important exporter of coffee.
But in the early 1960s, the Cuban coffee industry took a huge dive after nationalization and the US trade embargo, which is perhaps why many Western countries haven’t had the privilege of enjoying a delicious cup of Cuban coffee.
Cubita, Serrano, Regil, Arriero, Turquino and more recently Guantanamera, are some of the marketing brands of Cuban coffee, sold to the public at US dollar equivalent prices but in our two local currencies.
The coffee / chickpea blend
Hola is a coffee sold in bodega stores, via the ration booklet. This coffee is mixed with ground chickpeas. Over time, the percentage of chickpeas has increased and sometime, this Hola coffee neither smells or tastes like coffee.
Always making magic with thin air, Cubans buy a packet of pure coffee (when they can) and mix it with Hola. This way, they are able to make it last longer and give it a little more aroma and flavor of a fine cup of Cuban coffee.
With this global crisis because of the pandemic, all kinds of coffee have disappeared from “normal” stores. Now you can only find it in the new dollar stores. Anyone unable to buy it will have to make do with the Hola packet named after a greeting. However, it is more than a greeting, it’s a farewell to our true coffee.